Posted in D'var Torah, Uncategorized

Go Outside Your Comfort Zone

This is the Parsha about confronting your fears. Yaakov has to go to visit his brother- the one he ran away from, the one that wanted to kill him, the one he tricked. We see Yaakov preparing himself, as well as his family. He divides them as a way to potentially protect them. He sends lots of people with gifts before him, to potentially appease him. He even has a bad dream with him fighting (himself, and angel of God, an angel of Esav), working out the tension the morning before he has to confront his brother.

And then he meets him. The commentaries read that things didn’t go well. The known midrash of why are there dots on the word “he kissed”, it is to show the teeth marks on Yaakov’s neck. Esav went into kiss but really wanted to bite him, to kill him, and a miracle happened and his neck turned to stone, and so he didn’t die. But what if he really did just want to kiss him? What if he really did just want to make peace and see his brother after all these years? What if he really wanted all of this, and Yaakov didn’t give him the time of day?

On the other side, we can ask the same of Esav. How could he expect Yaakov to come willingly without fear? How can he show that he actually means peace?

There is another story about fear and choice. The one of Dina. We had an interesting conversation over Shabbat about what happened to her. Was she really raped? Or maybe the pain that was caused was not a physical one, as we do talk about love in this story, but rather an emotional/sociological one- she has slept with someone that she chose, and he was outside of the people that she was told she could be with- she was now a black mark on the family. Just sleeping with someone outside of marriage would do that, as why someone would marry a non-virgin.

Dina started exploring outside of her comfort zone, she had the original choice to do that. Maybe she even had the choice to start with this guy, who might have been nice. I’m sure there was fear to- what do you do when you love someone that doesn’t fit into your community? What do you do with someone that everyone around you will think it is strange or different? How can one hold up their communal ideals while still being true to themselves?

And we can’t forget her father and brothers, who when they hear about all that happened become furious. So much so that her brothers decide to trick the entire nation, that seem to be genuinely open to change their ways, so that he could get married, and then kill them all. Again there is no trust. Again there is a want to be the most powerful. Again there is only taking in one side of pain and fear.

It is hard to confront people that might have hurt us in the past. It is hard to try out things that are a bit out of what our immediate community does or thinks. It is hard to know what to do when someone close to us is hurt. But at the same time, they are all important things to do. We need to figure out ways when someone wants to apologize to at least be there to listen (I do agree that in certain circumstances this is a bad idea no matter how much a person wants to apologize, and I think that is the right of the person to protect themselves, no one should actually feel the need to put themselves in danger). We need to figure out what is right for oneself, and decide how that will affect their communal life, and if it is right to go for it. Although at the same time I think that it is good to sometimes go outside of you comfort zone a bit. And most importantly, I think that we need to not act rashly when we are trying to protect those who are close to us. I think that all it does is perpetuate violence and sadness- there must be a better way.

May this week be one of peace and healing. A week where we are able to confront our fears, go out of our comfort zone, and create peace with those around us, in hopes of a better future.

Song of the Parsha 


Posted in Stories from the Nursing Home

Have You Dated Someone from the Mir?

I had a laugh today at work. One of the men comes from a very relgious community. He is a very sweet man, who I have many conversations with, and even help him put his tefillin on some days during the week.

Today he was with his daughter and son-in-law when I came over to say hello. For some reason he decided tell me that he thinks it is time for me to get married, and asked if I was seriously looking yet. He told me he thinks it would be good for me to find a shadchan (a matchmaker). I told him that I don’t think I am part of a community that dates through a Shadchan.

His question following was what made me laugh. “So, have you dated anyone from the Mir?” When I said no, he then asked which yeshivot I have dated from. (These are questions asked in the very frum world).

He proceded to tell me that I am a very special person (“you are something” as he likes to say),  it is not good to be alone, and if I feel like I am ready and serious about marriage it is a good time to look. He told me that it will happen in the right time, which his son-in-law said he is declaring it to happen, not just giving me hope.

I do hope that it is true. It is very sweet of him to care so much for me, that he wants me to marry someone from “the best” yeshiva he can think of. But it is still funny to me to picture myself married to a guy from the Mir.


Posted in Israel

It Happened

It happened. After all the years of both partially and actually living in Israel, I know someone first hand that was murdered.

When there are military operations, stoning, rockets, stabbings, other terrorist attacks the first thoughts are: “Where did it happen? Do I know anyone that lives there? Is everyone I know ok?”

Up until know it hasn’t been anyone I know (thank God), most of the time they were complete strangers. Sometimes they were people that were very close to friends of mine (one degree of separation). I remember vividly when I was 18, sleeping over at a friend’s house. My friend was so excited because she was going to her friend’s wedding the next day. But when we woke up, I saw her in tears. Her friends, along with her father were both murdered together on a bus bombing.

Up until now that is the closest that I have gotten. My friends in the army have lost friends. My friends living here for longer have lost friends and family. Yom Hazikaron is one of the most difficult days at work, as there is not a single resident not mourning for someone- let alone what it feels like in the country itself.

But it has happened. Rav Yaakov Don z”l was murdered last Thursday. I taught with him for 3 years. His class was the one that happened right before mine. We never really spoke all that much, mostly because I was getting him to finish on time so I could start teaching. But you could always see that the students were drawn into his class. He loved teaching. He loved being with people. He loved sharing his knowledge and receiving new ideas from those around him.

This morning my Facebook feed was filled with videos of the beginning of the funeral for Ezra Schwartz z”l. You have 18 year old boys standing at his coffin leaving the ambulance. You have 18 year old kids leading a funeral procession for their friend, someone they will never see again. You have 18 year old kids and lots of people from the community (and by community I mean the country), coming out to escort his coffin to the airplane that will take him back to Boston so his parents and siblings will be able to bury him and mourn.

This needs to stop. We need to find a way that we aren’t getting used to the fear. That we aren’t getting used to going to funerals. That we aren’t in a constant state of fear-mourning-back to “normal”, always trying to figure out how to actually enjoy oneself, while knowing horrible things are happening, or could happen at any second.

May this week be a week of comfort and peace.


Posted in D'var Torah

Moments of Holiness

Once again it is a bloody day. Terrorists went into a shul in Tel Aviv and into the Yeshuv of Alon Shvut, and 5 people were murdered. My Facebook feed is full of pictures of blood and death. They are full of posts of pain. It is not just France, Bagdad, Nigeria…unfortunately the list can (and does go on). But for me, it is a 40 minute bus ride away. It is in places that my friends live in. It is in places that I go to hang out.

With this, I was thinking about moments of Holiness that I experienced today (with slight hope that it will bring some light to the darkness that is happening in the world).

For a bit over a year now, I have helped one of the men at the nursing home put on his tefillin. He is a Holocaust survivor, who miraculously laid tefillin even while in the camps. He is unable to use one of his arms, and so I help him do the wrapping and placing them on their head.

Recently, we have a new man in the home that also needs help with putting on tefillin. This man was a pulpit rabbi for years, still even wears a black velvet kippa. He is able to unzip his sweater and unbutton his sleeve, but needs help to hold the box in place. As I am holding the box, he is pulling the leather straps tightly around his arm, stopping at his hand, to them put on the one for his head, which he is able to put directly in the middle just by feeling. This is done is complete silence. I stand next to him, trying to figure out how to help, while at the same time not be noticed so I am neither an imposition nor a distraction.

During this time I think about the physicality of tefillin, and what it would feel like to put them on my own body. I think about the amount of times these men have wrapped these boxes and leather straps to their own body, and how many people they have helped learn how to do the same. I think about the intimacy of this act- and what it means to be allowed to be part of it.

Today was also the HUC Israel ordination. It was an evening of singing and prayer. Each of the newly ordained rabbis spoke, brought quotes that were meaningful to them, and had others close to them share their stories. The moment of awe was watching the ordination.

Each of the students was called up, their quote was read, and a song they chose was played. The student went to the open Aron (with a Torah inside), and the rabbi was there. The rabbi and student had a quiet, personal, intimate conversation, that no one is the audience could hear but all could see, all while music played in the background. After whatever was being said, was said, he places his hands on their head and blessed them.

This ritual, that happened 5 times, stopped my breath each and every time. Maybe this is how Yaakov could have said he didn’t know of God’s presence until after he woke up from his dream. There are times that we forget about God, or that it is difficult to see God. But then there are occurrences that happen that make us remember that there is something holy, good, and beautiful in the world.

May all those harmed across the world find comfort. May we all find places of holiness and beauty in the world. May we find a way to fill the world with love instead of hate.

Question (please feel free to write your answer in the comments): What are moments of holiness that you realize? Have you seen or experienced something lately? 


Posted in D'var Torah, Israel

What if the Two Nations in Her Womb Worked Together?

Shabbat was nice, quiet, restful. After Shabbat finished, I turned on my phone. All of a sudden I saw that friends of mine in Paris had “checked in”, but for what? Was there a natural disaster there? Or something worse…?

Shabbat can actually give this feeling of connection to the immediate world around me, while at the same time disconnection with the greater world. There is something nice to not be connected all the time. To somewhat forget that the world is not always the greatest place. To just hang out with friends, almost with no care in the world (I am still living in Israel).

I remember this feeling a few years back, when there were constant bombings in the South, and earlier that week they reached Tel Aviv. I remember going away for Shabbat, and it was the first time that I wasn’t glued to the news. Yes, the radio was on in the safe room, just in case something happened, we would be able to be informed. But there was this feeling of maybe it actually is as quiet as it seems (unfortunately that Shabbat there were at least two air raid sirens in Jerusalem).

I felt this two summers ago during Operation Protective Edge, where daily people were being killed. And there was this want for Shabbat, so I couldn’t look. But also a desire to know, because not knowing can be scarier.

This Shabbat, Israel too started with a tragedy. A father and son were murdered their daughter was supposed to be married this week.

The fighting around the world continues. I know (unfortunately), there are many places in the world that people are dying. People are afraid to walk outside, because of suicide bombers. People are afraid to walk outside because of terrorists with knives. People are afraid to walk outside because of rape.

In this past week’s Parsha, Parshat Toldot we hear that Rivka has two nations in her womb. They are fighting even inside her. They are born, and are very different from each other, but they are both loved and praised for the things they are good at. Yitzchak loves Esav because he goes out and hunts, and is a good hunter. Rivka loves Yaakov because he is quiet and stays indoors. It is because of trickery that the fighting starts. There are many commentators that say that Yaakov was in the wrong- wrong to buy the birthright the way he did; wrong to trick Lavan; wrong to try to trick Esav later when they re-meet again. What would have happened if they did not fight? What would have happened if they worked together? We are not able to have a world without food, nor are we able to have a world without the quiet times of intellect.

I pray that all of the families around the world that have suffered loss find some form of comfort. I pray that those who have suffered shock find solace. I pray that as a greater world community we can come together and find our way of working together- not trying to change one another, rather using each of our skills, desires, inclination for the greater good.

May we all have a week of peace, comfort, and happiness.

Posted in Life

I Feel Like Floating Confetti

You know when you take confetti in your hand and blow on it. Then it all floats in random chaos in the air for a bit till it falls on the floor? I feel like that floating confetti.

I knew that last year was hard. It messed with me, there is no question. I decided to change schools, and I thought that the summer was a long enough break, so that when I get back home things would go back to normal.

But that has not happened. I thought my stipend was going to be one thing, and then it was $4000 less, which meant that I would have to find another job.I started looking for another job, and luckily got interviews. But at the same time my actual job decided to change my schedule where I went from 12 hours a week to 20 hours a week. One of the jobs I interviewed for offered me a position, and based on my need to work 20 at the nursing home, and learn for 12, I would work for them 6-12 hours a week (depending on the week), although for minimum wage. I was called the other day to teach a class,, this would be only two hours a week.

I know that I am lucky that I was offered all these jobs. But the idea of taking them all makes me so overwhelmed, and basically frozen. I just don’t know what to do. I am worried about being tired as in addition to learning and work, having class two nights a week till midnight, while I still need to be up every day at 6:45. I am worried about not being able to make enough money because I have to move to the US at the end of the year, even though I know that I have enough for this year. I am worried that if I don’t take the job I will have made a wrong decision.

I am used to multi tasking. I am used to having to do a lot and running around. But for some reason, when thinking about it now it makes me want to hold my breath or cry. I feel like I won’t be able to do it and I will fail at everything. Like if I take on these new things then I will do poorly at my old things (especially school, for some reason I am really worried about school this year).


So with all this, and planning for the move/applying for schools…I’m just confetti floating around till I hopefully fall nicely in a form of chaotic order.

Posted in Dating, Life


This has been a long week of women’s issues, and so I think it is fitting that is the week of a woman’s Parsha. Chayei Sara is the one Parsha that is named after a woman. There are actually multiple women mentioned in the Parsha: Sara, Rivka, Rivka’s mom.

We start with the life of Sara. We find out that she has passed away (according to the Mirdash it was of a broken heart after hearing what Avraham did to Yitzchak). She was 127 years old, again according to the Midrash it was to show that she was still beautiful and practically sin free.

Without going to any of the other details, what else can we see if the book is called The Life of Sara. Maybe it is to show that she was the one that caused everything to happen. It was her that actually created the Jewish people, we don’t have a Parsha or a book called “The Life of Avraham” or any of the forefathers for that matter. It was her,  a woman who created the Jewish people. It was her life, her actions that was worth noting.

What would the world look like today if we saw that women have the ability to be actual leaders? What would it be like if we actually gave women their titles and the respect that they deserved for the work that they do? We hear in the texts about Sara making sure that her house was open, she cooks, cleans, greets her guests, but the Midrash also tells us that she taught, and was a leader as well. Maybe she was a leader with Avraham, but maybe she was a leader in her own right, that happen to marry a leader, and so the two of them were able to build together. Or maybe (and this is the easiest way for a modern woman who wants religious power in the Orthodox world to go about it) she was the actual leader, but she knew that she could do nothing on her own for being female, so she married and up and coming leader as a way for her to be able to do what she wants, and maybe even make a bigger name for herself, but no one will question because she is married and she is married to a leader himself.

Which brings me to the next part of the Parsha that many people are talking about. It is the week that Yitzchak find Rivka, well, really the week that Rivka is found for Yitzchak. It is the week of shidduchim. The week that everyone is writing about dating tips, and thinking about love and marriage.

The Parsha tells us a bit about Rivka, that she was nice and fed all of Eliezer camels (yay for nursery school). Eliezer saw this as a sign, spoke to her, even though she was a young girl, and then she decided to leave her family and go with this man to meet her husband.

I was talking to someone this week, as he found it strange that she would just up and leave her family. It was the custom at the time that one would be betrothed, wait a year (mostly because they were not physically ready for marriage yet), and then get married. Rivka didn’t do this at all, she just packed her bags and went.

The caring part of me wants to know what was she running away from? What caused her to break all of social norms and actually just leave her family and life, with what seems like no second thoughts.

The cynical part of me is like of course she just went away to get married. Who wouldn’t? You never know who or what will come next. And it being a world where you are either in your father’s home or your husbands, and you are not really worth anything if you aren’t married, of course you will go to someone who actually seems nice, who cares about anything else.

I am not sure that it has changed so much in 2015. Well, certain parts have- we are not for people getting married at age 12; most of the time people are looking for more than just a nice guy; we are not going from our father’s house to our husband’s like a piece of property. But I think, especially in my community, you are expected to get married. You are treated better by the community at large, and are offered more positions. It is what is expected of a person (which makes it also very difficult for those who have no intentions of marriage).

Having a man by your side gives you power as a woman. I have been told many times that it will be harder for me to get a job if I am single. I know that I will have a much easier time doing what I want to do if I marry a rabbi. But at the same time, I want to believe that I am more than just someone’s spouse. THat I have power in my own right.

I look to the foremothers as role models. I look at their stories and lives, and see what I can learn from them to be a good person, as well as a strong woman. But with that, I hope that I am not like Sara having to marry someone with power so I can have power. And I hope that I am not with Rivka that I am running to marry the first nice guy, just so I can have a ring on my finger.

I do hope that I can be like Sara and constantly have an open home, be a person that people trust, and be able to find a partner that is an equal. I do hope to be like Rivka and be able to care for others even when it might be a burden, and learn to sometimes take a leap of faith.

May all who are looking for a partner be able to find them as easily as Eliezer found Rivka for Yitzchak.